Clyde Stubblefield, James Brown's 'Funky Drummer,' Has Died at 73

Clyde Stubblefield, James Brown's 'Funky Drummer,' Has Died at 73

The musician is the most sampled drummer in hip-hop history.

Published February 18th

Clyde Stubblefield, best known as James Brown's drummer, has today passed away from kidney failure (Feb. 18). He was 73. 

Stubblefield, fondly known as the 'Funky Drummer,' is also the creator of one of hip-hop's most popular samples, and has performed on some of Brown's most classic songs, including "Cold Sweat," "Ain't It Funky Now," and "I Got the Feelin'," as well as was featured on Brown's Cold Sweat and Sex Machine albums.

Questlove was one of the first to react to the tragic news, taking to Instagram, offering, "The Funky Funkiest Drummer Of All Time. Clyde Stubblefield thank you for everything you've taught me. The spirit of the greatest grace note left hand snare drummer will live on thru all of us."

Bootsy Collins, who performed with the drummer on Sex Machine, also reacted to the news, writing, "We lost another Pillar Stone that held up the Foundation of Funk."

"Mr. Clyde Stubblefield has left our frequency," Collins continued. "I am lost for words & Rythme right now. Dang Clyde! U taught me so much as I stood their watchin' over u & 'Jabo' while keepin' one eye on the Godfather. We all loved U so much."

The drummer's most influential moment in music came when he created an infamous 20-second drum break, originally for Brown's 1970 hit, "Funky Drummer," a snippet that went on to become one of the most sampled hip-hop beats in music history.

Strubblefield's drum solo has been sampled in over 1,000 songs, including serving as the backbeat in songs such as Public Enemy's "Fight the Power," N.W.A.'s breakout hit "F**k tha Police," Dr. Dre's "Let Me Ride," LL Cool J's "Mama Said Knock You Out," Run-D.M.C.'s "Run's House" and Beastie Boys' "Shadrach," to name a few.

Stubblefield once recalled the process of how the infamous beat came to be, reflecting that Brown never told him how to play or what to play throughout their time working together.

"We were sitting up in the studio, getting ready for a session, and I guess when I got set up I just started playing a pattern," he previously reflected. "Started playing something... The bassline came in and the guitar came in and we just had a rhythm going, and if Brown liked it, I just said, 'Well, I'll put something with it.'"

While the rest was history, Stubblefield was not listed as a songwriter on the track, and unfortunately didn't receive many royalties despite the decades worth of sampling.

"People use my drum patterns on a lot of these songs," Stubblefield told the  New York Times in 2011. "They never gave me credit, never paid me. It didn't bug me or disturb me, but I think it’s disrespectful not to pay people for what they use."

Thanks to the countless musicians he's inspired, such as Questlove and Bootsy Collins, his legacy will be kept alive. Our thoughts and condolences go out to his family and friends during this difficult time.

Revisit some of Clyde Stubblefield's most celebrated and influential contributions to music history in the clips below. 

Written by KC Orcutt

(Photo: Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for Guitar Center)

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